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Beginning with just 20-30 birds in 2007, increasing numbers of Black-Crowned Night Herons have been migrating to Chicago in late March and early April, building their unruly nests in trees, and adding their squawks to the urban nature chorus. These strikingly colored birds are a state endangered species, and their migration and adaptation to densely populated areas bodes well for their future, while bringing us all a little closer to wildness in the city. In the spring and summer, their nests can be seen near the Lincoln Monument, in some of the trees on nearby walking paths, and above the red wolf exhibit in the zoo.
The last count of Black-Crowned Night Heron nesting adults totaled 300 pairs—a remarkable example of urban adaptation and success. When they are hunting prey, the herons are patient and quiet stalkers; in their communal nesting colonies, however, they are boisterous (refer to audio). The first hatchlings can usually be seen in mid- to late-May.
Mason Fidino, an ecological analyst at the Lincoln Park Zoo, has been monitoring the night herons’ progress near the zoo.